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Girls aim to make playoffs

Whitehall was ready to unwrap a new girls basketball season before Gov. Wolf’s announcement suspending all extracurricular activities until early January.

What won’t change despite the delay is Whitehall’s quest to return to the postseason. The last time they qualified for the district playoffs was in 2016.

They will begin that journey under the leadership of new head coach Will Robertson. He has a good mix of veterans and newcomers who will look to end that drought. Of the 12 members on this year’s squad, seven have varsity experience.

That’s led by seniors Joey-Madison Shaul and Meghan Hutter. Both players will play a vital role during this season, serving as the foundation for this year’s squad.

Hutter, who will be in the back court for the Zephs, is a player determined to do everything right, said Robertson. He said she’s relentless when learning a new drill or a new play, and wants to run it to perfection.

“She will do it to the best of her ability each and every time,” said Robertson.

He said that the younger players see that and it has an impact on them. She’s in the gym every day trying to get better, working on everything she’s been taught. It’s an example of a senior leading by example.

“You can’t have a better leader doing that,” he said.

Shaul, a frontcourt player, enters her final year ready to make that push to the playoffs. It’s her goal, and she’s ready to meet that challenge. She’ll give the Zephs a strong inside presence, and her experience playing in the league should help her be a force in the paint.

Robertson said that Shaul brings a level of enthusiasm to the hardwood.

“She just seems so excited; it all seems so brand-new,” said Robertson.

He said that she tries to make every day fun and brings that enthusiasm to the court. He said that her style plays well with Hutter’s button-down approach as the two seniors look to guide them into the postseason.

“I think they play off each other so well,” he said.

They’ll also get Ella Laky back in the mix. After suffering a broken leg that sidelined her last season, Laky is ready to return and should pay dividends for the Zephs, especially when it comes to running the offense.

Robertson said that he calls her his coach on the floor.

“She has great vision for what’s happening on the floor,” said Robertson. “She has a great basketball I.Q.”

He said that Laky has started to become vocal at practice, communicating with everyone on where to be and what to do. She handles that role with maturity, and Robertson sees the value in a player who thinks like a coach. He also touts her versatility. While she play mainly in the backcourt, he also sees her switching to wherever she’s needed.

Olivia Hines also returns. Hines, who started for the Zephyrs last season, exhibited some post moves last season that were downright nasty. She had a deft up-and-under move that could get her buckets, and Robertson hopes to get her to realize how good she can be as a player.

He said the junior has a very high ceiling, and he’s looking forward to her becoming the best player that she can be.

“She has all the tools,” he said.

He believes that if she starts putting everything together on a consistent basis, she’ll see success. He believes her experience heading into her junior year will make a big difference, and he hopes it will all come together for her this season.

They’ll also return Isabella Fonzone. Robertson said that Fonzone, a guard, is “an athlete.” He also likes her aggressiveness on the court.

“She’s fearless,” he said.

He said that her skills as a sophomore are highly developed and she’ll be major contributor this season. He also said that she brings a positive attitude to the court, a player that’s always clapping in recognition of a teammate’s effort. He said that something she’s been doing very well as a younger player.

Also returning are sophomores Rachel Ganser and Ciara Rogers. Robertson said that both players will see time as perimeter players.

“They’re both great kids and workers,” he said.

He’s also excited about newcomer Tiana Carey. The freshman has impressed with the joy she brings to the court. He said that she loves playing basketball, giving it everything she has each time on the floor.

“She’s a delightful kid to be around,” said Robertson.

He said she’s another versatile player.

“We’ll have her everywhere,” said Robertson. “She’ll be a plug and play player for us.”

The Zephyrs will also feature freshmen Hannah Bundra, Morgan Dunbar, Kayleigh Fisher and Kayla Marsteller.

Robertson didn’t have a full summer to get his feet wet since the pandemic curtailed their ability to play any league basketball, or even gather together for any practices until late June.

While it’s been a compressed time frame, he said he’s been encouraged by the acceptance he’s received from his players. They’ve been receptive to what he’s trying to teach, and they’re incorporating those lessons into actions on the court.

“They’re taking everything we’re giving and turning it around,” said Robertson. “We’re seeing the results on the court.”

He’s also been enthusiastic about their level of excitement and eagerness to work every day.

“Their attitude has been great,” said Robertson. “Their work ethic has been phenomenal.”

The team is now scheduled to open with Nazareth on Jan. 12. Robertson knows that the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference will be tough again this year, with numerous teams returning a bunch of starters. He said one of their main goals is to go out and earn respect in their league. While this season may bring some growing pains, he wants their opponents to know that they’re in for a battle when they play Whitehall. He wants them to feel like they belong, and the way they accomplish that is through hard work.

Moreover, he wants his players to stand tall and believe in themselves.

“I want them to feel a sense of pride of who they are and how they play,” he said.

This season will also see all the teams wearing masks while playing. He said that when they first stepped into the gym it was difficult, but now they’ve adapted to it.

Robertson will aided this season by varsity assistant Kelly Robertson. Serving as junior varsity coaches will be Kristen Windsor and Katrina Patterson. The freshmen coach will be Tony Donahue, while Tony Pagan will handle Middle School duties.

Joey-Madison Shaul is back for the Whitehall girls basketball team this year.